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Distributors pining for Latino buzz

Lopez, Hayek projects hope to find solidarity

Distribs are hoping they’ve found the secret to appealing to the elusive U.S. Spanish-speaking audience. This month sees the release of three Latino-themed pics rolling out nationwide, with more slated to open in the fall.

The performance of past releases hasn’t reflected the immense size of the audience. But this time, stars like Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek are using their star wattage to get projects off the ground, which could provide the boost the releases need. After all, Hispanic viewers go to movies more frequently than any other ethnic group in the U.S.

“There’s not a person in this industry who does not recognize and acknowledge the power of Hispanic filmgoers,” says Universal Pictures marketing prexy Adam Fogelson. “I also haven’t met anyone who claims he has figured it out,” he adds wryly.

Lopez, who has shied away from the limelight for months, is coming back to the bigscreen three times during the summer and fall. She toplines two pics and has a cameo in one, all produced or co-produced by her shingle Nuyorican Prods. The blitz kicked off Aug. 3 with Picturehouse release “El Cantante,” starring Lopez and husband/crooner Marc Anthony and directed by Cuban-born Leon Ichaso.

She also stars in helmer Gregory Nava’s “Bordertown,” tentatively slated for a fall debut from ThinkFilm. Lopez will also be promoting Alejandro Chomski’s reggaeton pic “Feel the Noise,” which Nuyorican co-produced with Sony BMG Feature Films. Both Lopez and Anthony have cameos in this teen-targeted dance pic opening Oct. 5 via TriStar.

“By being creative producers, Lopez and Hayek control their material as well as influence and mentor other people,” says Picturehouse topper Bob Berney. “It’s a smart business move and also important artistically.”

Hayek, who’s produced Oscar-winning “Frida” and ABC hit “Ugly Betty,” is making two to four movies with partner Jose Tamez through new shingle Ventanazul, their joint partnership with MGM.

At least three projects are in various stages of development at Ventanazul: a fantasy pic to be helmed by Chilean Nicolas Lopez and comedic fantasy “Bones Family,” with George Lopez in talks to co-write, produce and star. Rodrigo Garcia will helm feel-good story “Diego Ascending” which Hayek and Tamez co-produce with Mark Teitelbaum and Sergio Aguero.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 31, Lionsgate releases Spanish-language heist pic “Ladron que roba el ladron” (How to Rob a Thief) from its joint venture partner, Panamax Films. Pic features a slew of telenovela thesps in a bid to attract Univision and Telemundo viewers.

Perhaps the answer lies in not labeling them as Latino pics. TriStar will position “Feel the Noise” more as a dance/music pic similar to the marketing for “Stomp the Yard” or “You Got Served,” according to Screen Gems/TriStar marketing executive veep Marc Weinstock.

Music will also be a key marketing hook for “El Cantante,” although Lopez is the top draw.

Multihyphenate John Singleton, through his five-pic distribution deal with Universal, is hoping to tap both African American and Hispanic urban markets at once, starting with his production of Franc Reyes’ “Illegal Tender.” U releases the Puerto Rico-set urban drama Aug. 24. 

Naturally, all eyes are on the fledgling $100 million pact between Universal/Focus Features and Mexican helmers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Cha Cha Cha’s first project, Carlos Cuaron’s “Rudo y Cursi,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, started presales in Cannes.

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